“Don’t Walk” by Saul Leiter, 1952. Published in ‘Early Color’ (Seidl, 2006)

Saul Leiter: Early Color by Saul Leiter, Göttingen: Steidl, [2006]2008, “Don’t Walk”, 1952. Image retrieved from The New Yorker. © Saul Leiter.

American photographer Saul Leiter died on November 26 in New York. In the “Introduction” he wrote for a book about Saul Leiter published in Thames & Hudsons Photofile series, American art historian and photographer Max Kozloff remarks:

Though he originally came to New York to become a painter, Saul Leiter circulated as a photographer who during the late 50s to the 80s made his living by fashion assignments with what one writer has called “his disdain for self-promotion”. Leiter dismisses the idea that his personal street pictures, a great archive of the period only now coming to light, have anything new or noteworthy to show us. This sincere opinion is mistaken. To say that he flourishes at the top, in the Mont Olympus of New York photography, is saying a great deal. He’s right up there with amazing highs of photographic history itself. He’s more abstract than many, he’s more constructive than several, but he’s also more soulful than a great many. Let’s hope that this shy artist will be reconcile to the admiration that is only belatedly and justifiably bestow upon his art. (Thames & Hudson, 2008)

In its obituary, The New York Times underlines the significance of the publication of Saul Leiter: Early Color in 2006:

“In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined,” Mr. Leiter said in an interview for a monograph published in Germany in 2008. “One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.”

Mr. Leiter (pronounced LIGHT-er), under some protest, came to renewed attention in recent years. In 2005 his early color photography was the subject of a well-received exhibition at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in Manhattan; in 2006 an illustrated book, “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” with a foreword by the art historian Martin Harrison, helped make it even more widely known.

That year, the Milwaukee Art Museum mounted the first solo museum exhibition of Mr. Leiter’s color images; exhibitions followed at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris and elsewhere. (read more: “Saul Leiter, Photographer Who Captured New York’s Palette, Dies at 89” by Margalit Fox, Nov. 27, 2013)

Untitled (self-portrait) by Saul Leiter, circa 1950s © Saul Leiter. Image retrieved from ahorn magazine.
Untitled (self-portrait) by Saul Leiter, circa 1950s © Saul Leiter. Image retrieved from ahorn magazine.

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To learn more about Saul Leiter, consider the following resources:

  • One can quickly browse through Saul Leiter: Early Color in a couple of videos (see for example YouTube or Vimeo) or flip through a digital preview at Photo-Eye. Although the first printing is out-of-print (and used copies sell for a couple of hundred dollars), at the time of writing the fourth edition from 2011 can still be acquire online (see AbeBooks).

  • The New Yorker: “Postscript: Saul Leiter (1923-2013)” by Teju Cole, November 28, 2013

    One of the most effective gestures in Leiter’s work is to have great fields of undifferentiated dark or light, an overhanging canopy, say, or a snow drift, interrupted by gashes of color. He returned again and again to a small constellation of subjects: mirrors and glass, shadows and silhouettes, reflection, blur, fog, rain, snow, doors, buses, cars, fedoras. He was a virtuoso of shallow depth of field: certain sections of some of the photographs look as if they have been applied with a quick brush. It will come as no surprise to a viewer of his work that Leiter was also a painter, that his heroes were Degas, Vuillard, and Bonnard, and that he knew the work of Rothko and de Kooning well. There are points of contact between his work and that of photographers like Louis Faurer and Robert Frank, the so-called New York School; but Leiter was an original. He loved beauty. To make a living, he photographed fashion spreads for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and the levity of his commercial work seeped into his personal work.

  • The New York Times Lens Blog: “Seeing Beauty With Saul Leiter” by Tony Cenicola, Nov. 27, 2013. Cenicola have worked with Saul Leiter for ten years. He recalls his experience:

    Of course, going to his apartment was really eye-opening: it was filled with art books, his work and Soames’s work. You would sit and have coffee with them, and he’d have a portfolio on his lap of paintings he had done the night before because he couldn’t sleep. He’d ask, “What do you think of this?” He had a way of talking that was self-deprecating and humorous.

  • Saul Leiter is represented by the gallery Fifty One Fine Art Photography, in Antwerp, Belgium. Its website offers small reproductions of over 100 of his photographs, along with a couple of his paintings. All items are properly identified (title, year of production, medium, size). Other art galleries with websites offering reproduction of Saul Leiter photographs alongside proper information include the Howard Greenberg Gallery (39 photos), M+B in Los Angeles (46 reproductions of chromogenic prints) and Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta (about 75 reproductions of chromogenic prints).

  • In 2013, Tomas Leach premiered a 75-mins documentary film he directed about Saul Leiter titled In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter (IMDb). The film was presented on BBC Four last April and was screened in various festival worldwide. I have watched it and enjoyed it very much. Aside from a an interesting photographer, Saul Leiter certainly was an amusing character. There are plans to release the film both on DVD and digital download (through VHX). One can watch the trailer below and stay informed by subscribing to the movie Twitter channel.

  • In the meanwhile, one can catch a glimpse at how Saul Leiter was by watching him on Vimeo while he answers question during an exhibition of his work in Hamburg, back in 2012.

“Postmen” by Saul Leiter, 1952. Published in ‘Saul Leiter: Early Color’ (Seidl, 2006). © Saul Leiter.
“Postmen” by Saul Leiter, 1952. Published in ‘Saul Leiter: Early Color’ (Seidl, 2006). © Saul Leiter.

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